A dark, unnerving setting back-lighting an intense, powerful horror survival game with a fantastic story and immersive game-play.
Strong story. Interesting characters. Powerful narrative. Amazing scenery. Unique game-play. Fantastic presentation. Solid soundtrack. Subtle queues to evoke eerie atmosphere and a drive to plow straight through the campaign.
Left-side-loving camera. Blatant product placement.
For a while there I was having discussions with fellow gamers and friends about the death of single-player gaming. It seems that every title that releases these days has multiplayer associated. In most modern cases the story-mode of the game does little more than introduce you to the ideals of the multiplayer. I was afraid that the cinematic, story-driven games of my past may have gone the way of the Dodo.
Fortunately though, Alan Wake does a brilliant job of reminding me that I’m stupid. Variety is key in video games. While there will be waves of one fad or another, we can still rely on our genre to pump out something for everyone. Alan Wake scratched an itch that has been nagging at me for some time. An itch that desperately needed a scratch; one for a deep interesting story, believable and likeable characters, atmospheric game-play, attention to detail, and an ability to get lost in a world of someone’s creation.
Alan Wake is a writer. After writing a series of bestselling novels, he decides to take some down-time in the country to recharge his creative batteries. The game starts out with a nightmare sequence, in true Remedy fashion, featuring the antagonist of his next novel-in-progress. This serves as a tutorial level before the game spits you quickly back into the real world where Alan and his wife are making their way to Bright Falls on a ferry. Unfortunately it’s hard to explain properly just how amazing the ride into Bright Falls is. The intro does a great a job setting the tone for the game and immediately sucking you into the world that Remedy has created. Fortunately though, we live in a world where I can just show you.
From here the game proceeds with the slow and steady descent into a much darker world. Without giving too much away, because this is a game that you’ll definitely want to experience first-hand, the premise is that Alan Wake has his wife taken from him. On his pursuit to reclaim his wife he travels into the dark and mysterious world of Bright Falls and its history. Ambiance, scenery, tone, and strong writing all do a great job of sucking you into the world and making you feel a little uneasy right from the get-go. Through-out the whole of the game you’ll have an unsettled feeling, which suits this Stephen-King-esque story to a T.
Though the character animations might not be the most impressive that you’ll see in a modern title, the game does a great job with developing the world in which you experience the story. The landscapes are amazing, expansive, and do a great job of setting the tone for the game. While it might not be an open-world game that will let you traverse the wild, rocky terrain of Bright Falls’ forests; it does inspire awe to look around the world from time to time during your play-through.
Of course a major part of that is the game’s lighting. When you base your game around the idea of light defeating dark, and make it a game-play mechanic you had better make sure that it looks good. Remedy pulled no punches with the lighting in the game, and its mechanics. Every possible use you can imagine for it, along with some you probably wouldn’t, is represented through-out the course of the game. Some of the most impressive and memorable for me were that there are tree stumps, and log formations that look distinctly like human figures until you shine your light on them to reveal their true form. There’s also the investigative use of the flashlight. Where by shining your light across surfaces you can reveal hidden messages, or even directions to hidden weapon caches stashed throughout the world.
For collectors out there, this game has one of the best series of collectables out there. Thermoses are standard “gotta catch them all… for an achievement” but where it really gets interesting is the media. Collecting radio shows, scraps of information about the town through signs/boards/plaques/etc and my personal favourite: TV shows. Even if you’re not much for going out of your way to collect objects, do yourself a favour and keep an eye out for TVs. There are 14 episodes of “Night Springs,” the in-game Twilight-Zone-ish live-action series, to be found and all are highly entertaining.
The game-play wrapped around these mechanics is solid as well. The complaints I had about the controls were minor. The only nagging concern I had was the game’s tendency to drift the camera to the left side of Alan. As someone used to having the character on the right side of the screen I found myself constantly needing to reset the camera in order to keep the game in the perspective that I wanted. It’s unfortunate that this small problem did become so nagging that it requires the game’s disqualification from a perfect score. If they patch this later on, feel free to add a +1 to the over-all score of the game.
Shooting, shining, and maneuvering your way through the game besides that minor erk though is easy and makes sense to the narrative being told. While there is not reticle for your weaponry, you can hold down the left trigger to “boost” your light, which also narrows your scope of vision allowing you to get a better aim on your target. Depressing the trigger half-way allows you the same effect without the battery loss. The interesting part of the decision to not include a reticule in the traditional sense is that it puts you at par with your characters knowledge of weaponry, and helps you to evolve it through the game. When starting out Alan references the fact that he’s never shot at anyone before, and only been to a range once or twice in his life, however as you get a feel for the gun later in the game it becomes easier and easier to pick your target and pull off headshots. In essence you’re learning the gun at the same pace as the character, everything feels organic, natural and thoroughly thought through.
There is so much to love about this game. The story is deep and interesting. The scenery is legitimately unnerving. The characters are relatable and likeable. The gameplay is solid and reliable. The presentation is flawless. Add that in alongside the thousands of subtle visual, gameplay, and sound queues that flush out the game and you have something that can truly be appreciated and held as an artistic work.
On the flip-side of the coin, complaints are minimal. Aside from the camera switch the game likes to pull, and some pretty blatant product placement, there isn’t much to pick at here. Not to mention how much they are over-powered by the games style. This accomplished through uses of things like: the game being split into 6 fully-contained episodes complete with recap at the top, and exit song at the end. Plus sexy slow-motion events for things like lighting a flare when surrounded by enemies…
I could talk for days about everything that made this game so great trying to convince you that you NEED to play it, but I should probably wrap this up. So just let me end on this note, everything discussed here is a fraction of what makes this game great. There is much, much more to be discovered in Bright Falls and I strongly encourage you to take the plunge.